Playing Nice: Can Microsites and SEO Work Together?

Imagine this: your brand is about to launch a new product, offer, or service that you are really excited about. It’s sure to answer the needs of one particular segment of your audience that you want to connect with on a personal level. What do you do? Do you send this specific slice of customers to the robust main site, making them wade through all the information to find what fits their needs? Or is it worth creating a separate brand experience tailored to a precise consumer group? You’ve decided you want to create a separate web presence to start building relationships. Now that you’ve narrowed that down – what should you build: a landing page or a microsite? Let’s back up and define each of these marketing strategy tools.

Landing Page vs. Microsite

Landing Page

Landing pages get right to business. They’re all about getting a customer to complete a specific action: whether that’s downloading your white paper or making a purchase. These pages are designed to welcome visitors from a specific social post, email or other campaign collateral. By filtering out unnecessary content from your site, you can amplify the message of your campaign. If your goal is to get someone to take an action, remove all roadblocks and distractions, and optimize everything from your headline, to your CTA text, to button colors and placement. If you’re asking your visitor to complete a simple task, then keep things simple with a landing page that makes it easy.

Microsite

Microsites (or minisites) are less about the DO NOW. Instead, these small sites are built around a focused message. Getting someone to complete a purchase isn’t always as simple as saying “buy now.” If you understand that the buying process around your product or service is lengthy and complex, microsites are a great way to serve up content that becomes an experiential tasting menu for your targeted buyer persona. Whereas with a landing page you get to “yes” or “no” right away, with a microsite, you can give a customer reasons to keep coming back, until they have a sense of your brand, a deeper desire for your offering, and is ready to buy.

Where Were We…

Right, you’ve decided you are more interested in building a custom user experience for your audience, rather than bombarding them with the “act now” approach.

Microsites – Yay!

Depending on your goals and resources, hosting your content on a separate microsite can have attractive advantages. There are four ways microsites can yield positive results:

  1. It allows the brand to create highly targeted content that will resonate with an engaged audience
  2. It positions the brand as an expert and community member
  3. The microsite can become a brand of its own, increasing your reach and influence
  4. The microsite can be used to drive traffic back to your primary website or to other microsites

Microsites are starting to sound like the right idea – you can deliver content targeted for a specific audience while encouraging engagement. What is there to lose, right? Well…

Microsites – Yay?

Not to be a downer, but there’s a reason why the “positive results” section is so small. From a search perspective, we do not often advise creating microsites. If your primary goal is to maximize your organic presence in the SERPs, it’s almost always better to host content on a new subdomain or subdirectory. The main benefit of using subdomains or subdirectories is that – unlike with microsites – your content still benefits from the authority of the root domain. I would not go as far as to say microsites are never the right answer, as explained above, but depending on your goals, there is a chance that a microsite could actually harm your objective. Many brands think of microsites as a great way to boost the authority of their main site. And while it is true that properly executed microsites can be a great marketing strategy with successful results, it’s much more likely that a microsite ends up harming your SEO results. If you have decided that your mind is set on creating a successful microsite, here are four SEO implications to keep in mind.

4 SEO Implications of Microsites

Search Engines Want Quality Content

As one of the top ranking factors considered by search engines like Google, having unique, in-depth, quality content is a must. Unfortunately, businesses often make the mistake of using the same content on both their main sites and microsites, which can result in rank deductions and even penalties. Why not just avoid duplicate content, right? It’s not that simple. Now instead of you putting all of your energy into creating a useful, consumer-friendly site, you’re wasting precious time and resources managing multiple websites. You’ve effectively doubled – or tripled! Or quadrupled! – your own workload. It’s far too easy to confuse quantity with quality. Instead of one really strong website with great content, you end up with a bunch of weak sites and mediocre content.

Your Backlinks Are Spread out and Lose Value

For search engine optimization purposes, it is important to build a wide variety of links to your main site. Much like the quality of your content, when links are spread out to several mini-sites, it dilutes the quality and decreases the value and power of these backlinks. Again, like with content, it’s much more effective to point these links towards your main site. It’s also just a bad idea. You might think that creating microsites that link to your main site would be beneficial for your overall SEO efforts, but that is simply not the case. While it can be tempting to use microsites to create a network of links between one keyword-rich URL to another, doing so will likely lead to a penalty from Google. Many a Webmaster has fallen into this trap and watched their webpages unceremoniously disappear from the top SERPs.

User Experience

Consumer experience is everything. Your one and only goal should be to help consumers find exactly what they’re looking for – whether it is an answer to a question or a product/service offering. If you’re promoting your business or service across various websites, you can count on confusing – and frustrating – at least some consumers. By sending your audience on a wild goose chase you’ll end up eliciting more questions than answers: Which page has the most relevant content? Is this still the same brand? Am I doing this right?! In most cases, having multiple sites only serves as a hassle for the customer. Most people are busy and in a hurry, so if it requires extra work, you’ve already lost their interest and likely, a conversion. In this day and age where information is available in an instant, your potential customers are expecting quick, seamless experiences where they can find what they need and buy it without having to take any additional steps. The most successful brand engagements are simple, straightforward, fast, and intuitive. As mentioned above, diluting your content by spreading it across multiple pages weakens your own authority but it’s also the death of a successful user experience.

Establishing Trust

Chances are that your main site is an aged authority in the eyes of the various search engines. By continuing to add relevant content to your main site, you’ll only build on existing trust and authority. If you were to add your new content on separate microsites, it would take a lot more time to build up the value of these microsites and rank them in search engines.

Many companies think launching a microsite (or several) is a great way to dominate the SERPs. In theory, if you could succeed in getting your corporate website to rank as number 1 for any given keyword, and then own positions 2-10 with microsites, you would have complete ownership of the SERP. This would allow you to direct a whole bunch of traffic back to your brand. In reality, this will never happen. It is true that Google is unlikely to show more than a couple search results from a single domain. However, it’s equally unlikely that you would be able to build up enough authority for a bunch of microsites to have them rank alongside your primary domain. Why split authority between several sites when you could earn it all on one? Building domain authority is not an easy task, if it was, many SEO specialists would be out of a job.

Lesson Learned

First impressions are everything on the Internet. It only takes a few seconds for your audience to decide if they want to browse your website further, and it’s extremely easy to lose their interest. The bottom line is: informative, well-written, engaging content will always be king whether you decide on creating a microsite or not. Regardless of the dissent, there are situations where microsites are beneficial. BUT unless you’re a big brand with tons of resources to devote to it, it probably isn’t the best strategy for SEO. Our advice would be put your energy to good use by building authority for your primary website with great content and earned backlinks. You will see results much faster, which allows you to maintain (and improve) your current search engine rankings. Then, if/when you reach the right levels of success, you can start experimenting with cool microsites.